SASKATOON -- After more than 135 years, Treaty 6 medals have been returned to the Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation northeast of Saskatoon.

The Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan and the Office of the Treaty Commissioner symbolically gave back the replica medals to leaders of the First Nation in a special ceremony Aug. 28 as another step towards reconciliation.

“Today we honour our late chiefs, Beardy and Okemasis by having their medals returned. It was a huge part of history that was taken,” said Chief Edwin Ananas of Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation.

“I’m grateful for all the elders and knowledge keepers for ensuring that our stories, languages and traditions are not lost so they can be passed down and shared. So we can never forget where we come from,” said Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan Russ Mirasty.

In 1885, Canada’s military commander, Frederick Middleton, accused Beardy and Okemasis of violence in their alleged involvement in the Riel Resistance and the commander threated to burn the chiefs’ reserves if they didn’t comply.

The Crown then stripped the chiefs of their Treaty 6 medals and withheld treaty annuity payments to men, women and children for three years between 1885 and 1888. The Crown confiscated guns, horses, cattle, carts and wagons and labelled the people as rebels.

“Our people went hungry and they had to resort to other means to survive,” said Ananas.

A pass system was also enforced on reserve and a new chief was not allowed to be appointed until 1936.

Leadership today has long argued that only a handful of younger members of Beardy’s and Okemasis who were starving fought in the resistance and that the Canadian government overstated the First Nations involvement in the resistance to eliminate their tribal governance system.

In 2017, the Specific Claims Tribunal ruled the Crown breached its obligation to pay Treaty annuities to 14 First Nations including Beardy’s following the Louis Riel led uprising. Beardy’s and Okemasis received $4.5 million in grievances. That money has since been reinvested in the community.

“We started this project in 1996 and in 2016 it was approved at the federal level. It brought in millions to our First Nation communities,” said elder and knowledge keeper Angus Esperance.

“We will continue teaching our historical teachings to our young people so that this history doesn’t happen again,” said Chief Ananas.